Friday, April 21, 2017

TNAce: The Essential AJ Styles Collection, Disc One


AJ Styles is probably my favorite, all-time favorite wrestler. Yes, more than Ishii, Silas Young, or even Harley Race. So getting the four disc Essential Collection of his best matches in TNA has always been on my radar. I know that TNA's beginnings were less than stellar...and some of the middle...and...and I mean 2012 was really good...But AJ Styles, even back in 2007 when I started watching TNA, had talent that rose above the schlock. So as I put in disc 1 of the set, a group of matches I've never seen before, I thought surely, SURELY, this applied throughout the earlier days.

Right?



June 19th, 2002
AJ Styles, Low Ki, and Jerry Lynn vs The Flying Elvises (Jorge Estrada, Jimmy Yang, and Sonny Siaki)
Ho boy...I guess this match is on here more for profiling purposes. It was the first official match on TNA's first show. Really, the only way I can describe it is thus;
Move.
Move Move.
Move Move Move Dive Move.
Dive Dive Dive.
Move.
There's no real reason to watch this match beyond historical reasons. Plus, the Elvises won.


June 26th, 2002
AJ Styles vs Psicosis vs. Low Ki vs. Jerry Lynn, Double elimination match for the X-Division Championship
This should have been the first match on the collection. There was constant movement and action, with a series of singles falls eventually boiling the match down to AJ Styles and Jerry Lynn within the first 10 minutes. It set AJ up as strong champion (spoilers, he wins), but also makes Jerry Lynn look really good by dominating through much of the match. It's clear to anyone that young Styles as a lot of potential that they could tap into. Unfortunately, the X-Division would go on to be treated like the undercard of WCW's day, and many of the fantastic wrestlers of the division would never get a chance in the main event. But, this isn't the place for that bitter debate.

Lynn vs. Styles was a very good match-up.

Top Ten Things: "Acquired Taste" Films

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!

Today I'll be talking about films that, at least for me, have required numerous viewings to fully appreciate and enjoy; films that, like the best music, become better with familiarity.  Sometimes a single watch doesn't allow you to process every nuance of the script or performances, or fully take in the visual composition at work, or nail down the subtext of what the director was trying to say.  And sometimes appreciation of a film just comes to you with age.  Something I wasn't interested in or couldn't relate to in my teens or 20s might be fascinating to me in my 30s or 40s.

I'm reminded of a Stanley Kubrick quote: The idea that a movie should be seen only once is an extension of our traditional conception of film as an ephemeral entertainment rather than as a visual work of art.

You said it Stanley.  Here are ten such films.....




1. Bride of Frankenstein (1935)


I first watched Bride of Frankenstein in college and my original assessment was that it strayed so far from the book and was so unabashedly weird that I hated it.  I'd become such a fan of the novel and Mary Shelley's complex depiction of the creature that the Universal film versions frustrated me to no end.  But upon later viewings I developed an appreciation for the film's uncompromisingly bizarre tone and for how ballsy its anti-religious and sexual undertones were for 1935.  Despite the simplicity of his speech in this film Karloff's monster is completely sympathetic and by this point in the story he's become the clear protagonist moreso than Dr. Frankenstein.  The performances by Ernest Thesinger as the sinister, rather flamboyant Dr. Pretorious, and Elsa Lanchester as The Bride are also iconic in the pantheon of classic monster films.  The Bride's "birth" is obviously the most film's famous scene; that this was such a memorable character is even more amazing considering how brief her appearance is.  What really sticks out about Bride after multiple viewings though are the Expressionist visuals; the use of light and shadow, the multi-plane shot composition, the use of wide-angle lenses.  What began for me as a goofy, over-the-top sequel has become my favorite of the Universal Monster films.





2. Citizen Kane (1941)


Kane is another film I first watched in college.  My English Literature class covered this film for some reason, and our professor had us watch parts of it to illustrate the artistry of some of the visuals and the narrative style.  What I saw piqued my interest enough to buy the VHS tape and I sat down and watched the whole thing.  And while I did appreciate the visuals to a certain extent I'd be lying if I said the story jumped out at 18-year-old Justin.  For a teenager raised largely on action films this rise-and-fall tale about a newspaper tycoon wasn't exactly the most exciting thing I'd ever seen.  But the imagery kept me enough of a fan that I rewatched it several times, and much later as an adult who'd actually tasted life, my appreciation of the story grew considerably.  One day about five years ago I decided to pop in the DVD after not having viewed the film in several years, and suddenly it all clicked for me.  The shot composition, the performances, the circular story structure, it was all ingenious, game-changing stuff.  Citizen Kane is now one of my all-time favorite films, and it only took me about two decades to realize it.




Thursday, April 20, 2017

Toys That Pissed Us Off: Playsets

Welcome to a new feature here at Enuffa.com!   Today our very own Dan Moore and I will discuss some of the toy playsets from our respective youts (What is a yout?) that really burned our asses for one reason or another.

Playsets in theory were all kinds of awesome.  You had your action figures and were all set to reenact some awesome movie sequence or what have you, but you needed a setting for the excitement to take place in.  You could either use your imagination and pretend the top of your dresser was the Death Star, or you could fashion something out of cardboard boxes, or you could be like the cool kids and get the officially licensed playset specifically designed to go with your toys.  And when it was good, it was AWESOME.  The G.I. Joe line for example boasted nary a bad playset.  From the Defiant shuttle to the Cobra Terror Drome, to the massive 7.5-foot USS Flagg, those playsets set the standard for action figure accessories.  Sadly not all playsets were so well-thought out.  Here are ten such examples, in no particular order.

We'll start with one of the most beloved toy franchises, the original Kenner Star Wars line.




1. Jabba's Throne Room


Justin: Let's get one thing out of the way - the Jabba figure itself was spectacular.  It was easily one of the best Star Wars toys Kenner ever produced, with incredible detail, movable arms and a tail that twitched when you turned Jabba's head.  This toy looked fantastic.  His throne though was a different story.  The detail looked good, and it included a trap door into which Jabba could send his victims to be eaten by the Rancor.  But there was one or two problems.  First off, the trap door was the surface the Jabba toy sat on.  So you'd have to remove Jabba to access it.  Second, the door opened OUTWARD.  The hell kinda trap door opens up like that?  The victim would be catapulted across the room!  Third, the area under the trap door was so shallow your Luke figure could only be placed there in a horizontal position.  So there was no reenacting the Rancor scene with this stupid toy.

Dan: I wanted to LOVE this fucking playset. My cousin Jefferey told me all about it before I got it. How cool Jabba was. How awesome all the accessories were. And that it had a working pit. I was fucking PSYCHED. I had one of those Inhumanoid giant toys who could double for the Rancor so I was ready to play.

This giant fellow in the middle?  Oh yeah, Rancor on 'roids!

And then I got the dumpster fart of a playset. Realizing that my dreams of having Luke get chased around under Jabba were crushed, I quickly dispatched with the playset itself and recreated one on my own out of a plain cardboard box, like a true poor person.






2. Ewok Village


Justin: To be fair, this was a pretty impressive playset for its time.  A big walkway area with a fire pit, over which you could pretend the Ewoks were roasting a person, a tree elevator, and a net for capturing unwitting Rebels underneath.  But compared to the setting in the film this was really skimpy.  Only one place to roast people?  A net underneath the village instead of off in the woods nearby?  An elevator that only holds like two people at a time?  Not to mention very little actually happened in the Ewok village in the movie - all the Endor action took place in the open woods.

Dan: I actually loved this playset a lot. But yes, my initial bitching about it was that there was no room to cook up both a Skywalker AND a Solo. I was PISSED. I refashioned the useless elevator into another roasting pit and I was happy about that. My parents were not happy, however, years later when they bought the Sherwood Forest playset from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and realized it’s the SAME FUCKING TOY.



Also, the Friar Tuck toy was a Pig Guard from Jabba’s palace with a new head. Blew my mind



Wednesday, April 19, 2017

We Are At War: WCW Spring Stampede 1998


19 Years ago, the Monday Night Wars raged on. I was 4 years old when the WWF broke the ratings dominance WCW, 7 when WCW folded forever. The Attitude Era is remembered as such a mythical time, of tremendous TV and great PPVs. Revisionist history tells us that WCW was a sinking ship from around the split of the nWo and before, and that the WWF started their almighty comeback with Austin's title reign that started at Wrestlemania 14.

Conveniently, both of these happened in the spring of 1998, where I'm gonna pick up in the timeline. I'm not going to be reviewing the weekly Raw and Nitro shows, because I seriously don't have the time or patience for that shit. Instead, I'm going to pick up their slack, and cover the PPVs as they come down the pike. There's gonna be good, there's gonna be bad. May Macho Man have mercy on my soul.

Spring Stampede, April 19th 1998
 6 Days ago, WWF beat WCW in the ratings war for the first time in 84 weeks. 20 minute Hogan promos dominate the program's pime time, and an undercard struggle for attention by putting on great matches that go ignored by the people in power. That is the stage set for April in 1998.
The opening package focused entirely on the nWo, only a passing mention of Sting, the World Champion. The Wolfpac split is coming soon, and Nash and Hogan's interactions in the video say as much. There's a smattering of nWo shirts in the crowd, like Bullet Club shirts are in crowds today.

Schiavone, Tenay and Heenan are our commentary booth. They're generally unoffensive, and I generally like all three of them. Heenan does a good job on color, with Mike and Tony doing good play by play.


Goldberg vs. Saturn
Goldberg was ridiculously popular. The crowd went wild when his music came on. He was labeled as 73-0, and the Number One contender for the United States Title. Almost immediately, he almost kills Saturn with a Pumphandle Fallaway. He certainly had an explosive style that was entertaining as hell. Not to take away from Perry Saturn, who had a very unique and fun to watch style. Goldberg threw Saturn around like a cruiserweight, the rest of the Flock interfered. Goldberg murdered Kidman with a spear. Golberg stood through the Rings of Saturn, and hit a Jackhammer from a Fireman's Carry. Goldberg was stupid strong, and stupid awesome. A really fun opener.
Meltzer's Rating:*1/2
It was short, and smokey, but it was fun regardless.

Monday, April 17, 2017

WWE vs. NJPW Supercard III

Welcome to the 3rd Annual WWE vs. NJPW Supercard, here at Enuffa.com!  In 2015 I came up with the bright idea to imagine what would happen if the two biggest wrestling companies in the world went head-to-head (Read the 2015 one HERE).  By 2016 both rosters had undergone massive changes so I revisited the topic and made it a yearly thing (Read that one HERE).  So here's the third edition - WWE currently sports the most stacked roster it's had in years, while NJPW took a difficult transition period and managed to flourish, filling its lineup holes with a host of new and growing stars, and their product is as strong as ever.  But which roster looks better now?  I've booked eleven fantasy matchups and given my picks for who I'd pick to win.  



Let's get to the matchups!



Neville vs. Hiromu Takahashi


After a terribly uneventful year on the main roster as a one-dimensional babyface, Neville suffered a leg injury in early 2016 that put him on the shelf for 8 months.  But it was a blessing in disguise; the time away allowed him to overhaul his character and he returned as a bitter heel with his sights set on destroying the new Cruiserweight division.  Neville won the CW Title in short order and has been a fantastic centerpiece ever since.

The former Kamaitachi returned to New Japan in 2016 after a three-year absence, with a new villainous persona aligned with the roguish Los Ingobernables stable.  His first act was to challenge the Jr. Heavyweight Champion Kushida to a match at WrestleKingdom 11, where he captured the title in a blazing 16-minute contest.  Takahashi has already carried himself like a major star and been a huge asset to the wildly popular stable.

This match would be fast and furious, with stunning aerial moves and lightning-fast counterwrestling.  Neither man would be afraid of taking shortcuts, but in the end Takahashi's pals on the outside would be a difference-maker.  Look for Takahashi to take the match in 9 minutes after a Time Bomb.

Winner: Hiromu Takahashi





Dean Ambrose vs. Katsuyori Shibata


Ambrose has had a pretty successful year, winning Money in the Bank and cashing in the briefcase for a WWE Title win the same night, and later capturing the Intercontinental Title.  While not perceived at quite the same level as his two former Shield-mates, Ambrose has nonetheless become a reliably prominent star and gotten plenty of the company's focus.

Shibata spent most of 2016 as the centerpiece of the NEVER Openweight division, delivering multiple strong style classics before finally dropping the belt to his old friend Hirooki Goto at WrestleKingdom 11.  Since then he's moved up the card, winning the New Japan Cup and challenging Okada for the IWGP Championship in an epic war.  Shibata's future is up in the air after the Okada match, but we're all hoping he's able to get back in the ring (minus the shoot headbutts of course).

This would be an insane war of attrition, with both men quick to engage in a slugfest and neither wanting to back down an inch.  Ambrose would be very comfortable taking the fight to the floor, while Shibata would prefer a straight-up in-ring battle.  At the 12-minute mark Ambrose would go for Dirty Deeds, but Shibata would push him into the ropes, Ambrose would go for a pendulum clothesline only to walk into a Shibata headbutt to the chest, followed by a choke and the PK for the win.

Winner: Katsuyori Shibata





Kevin Owens vs. Hirooki Goto


Kevin Owens had a tremendous 2016/early 2017, rekindling his blistering feud with Sami Zayn before capturing the new Universal Championship and forging an uncomfortably close friendship with Chris Jericho.  Owens was the main focus of RAW after the new brand split, until he turned on Jericho and lost the Universal Title to Goldberg.  But he rebounded at WrestleMania 33 by defeating Jericho for the US Title.  Owens remains one of the best heels in the company and isn't afraid to make the fans hate him.

Goto once again had an up-and-down year in 2016, falling just short of the IWGP Title AND the G1 Climax tournament, but began 2017 by dethroning his old friend Shibata for the NEVER Openweight Title.  Thus far his run has been quite dominant and he continues to deliver the goods between the ropes.

This match would be rugged and intense, with Goto's no-nonsense style clashing with Owens' surprising agility.  The striking would be brutal and I could see this devolving into dueling forearms and headbutts to the chest.  Owens would be quick to try to find shortcuts, while Goto would be full-steam ahead.  Owens would escape the Shouten-kai and counter the GTR by turning over, shoving Goto into the ropes and hitting a lightning-quick Pop-up Powerbomb for the win at 13 minutes.

Winner: Kevin Owens


Top Ten Things: Unnecessary Movie Remakes

Welcome to another edition of Top Ten Things!  I am your host, Justin, and I'll be bitching about something most would consider trivial.  But ya know, that's my thing.  So stick it.

Today I'll be talking about an issue that's plagued Hollywood for many years - particularly this century - the unnecessary remake.  Remakes are nothing new; the early decades of cinema saw countless movies done over, to take advantage of ever-improving technology and greater budget availability (just like now).  Plus it was a way for the studios to make easy money with a known title and not have to come up with original ideas (just like now).  Sadly these remakes often failed to live up to the artistry and craftsmanship of the original versions (just like now) and many of them fell by the wayside.  In the last fifteen years or so it seems just about every film churned out is either a remake, a sequel, a reboot, a prequel, a requel, a threequel, a squeakuel (okay that one just applies to the Chipmunks), and any new ideas get squeezed out of the mix except at Oscar season.  Some of the remakes in recent years have been downright baffling, in many cases at the expense of original films that absolutely got it right the first time.  So let's take a look at some of those....



10. The Karate Kid


Directed by John G. Avildsen of Rocky fame, The Karate Kid tells a similar story of an unlikely underdog's one chance at redemption.  Danny Larusso is the new kid in a California suburban school, who immediately runs afoul of some local bullies who also happen to be martial arts students.  After taking a few beatings from these kids, Danny enlists the help of the superintendent of his apartment building, an old Okinawan by the name of Mr. Miyagi.  The film follows Danny's unorthodox training and builds to the karate competition where Danny overcomes the odds and wins the whole thing.  This was a truly inspirational 80s film that has aged fairly well despite some cheesy moments and its similarity to Rocky.  But in 2010 Will Smith co-produced an "update" starring his son Jaden as the titular "Kid" and Jackie Chan as the Miyagi character.  While it got mostly positive reviews, it just struck me as cheap exploitation of a known brand (Lots of that going on in Hollywood), and I can't imagine anyone deeming it the definitive version, nor do I recall anyone clamoring to see it remade.  Makes one wonder when an ill-advised Rocky remake will see the light of day.




9. Psycho


Speaking of remakes no one asked for, in 1998 Gus Van Sant released his homage/shot-for-shot recreation of Alfred Hitchcock's iconic thriller.  This version would be in color, thus robbing the film of the original's distinctive look, and aside from a few shots now made possible by updated technology (the opening crane shot into the hotel room window for example), Van Sant offered literally nothing new.  He used the original shooting script and didn't make any changes to the story, nor did he try to make it his own.  This was nothing more than a vanity project, akin to a contemporary band covering a classic old song note-for-note, resulting in a banal sound-alike.  This doesn't even cover the senselessly inappropriate casting of Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates in a performance that can't hold a candle to Anthony Perkins' original.  If I ever said "Let's watch Psycho" and the person I was hangin' out with popped in the 1998 version I'd punch them square in the face.




8. Texas Chainsaw Massacre


Another classic horror movie pillaged by new millennium Hollywood, TCM broke new ground in 1974 as a realistic, gritty slasher film, before such a thing even existed.  Despite hardly showing any explicit violence, the film succeeded in being a psychologically disturbing, visceral experience that gave birth to the legendary character of Leatherface.  After several terrible sequels the franchise got a reboot in 2003 when Michael Bay's Platinum Dunes company tackled the material, creating a slickly overproduced, run-of-the-mill gorefest with no sense of realism.  This went against the spirit of the original, which relied on mood and guerrilla-style filmmaking to plunge the viewer into palpable terror.  The '03 version was simply another geek show in an already overfarmed genre, and it seemed Platinum Dunes was transparently cashing in on the name recognition.  Worse, it prompted remakes of every popular slasher movie from the 70s and 80s.  Which brings us to....




7. A Nightmare on Elm Street


Ugh.  In 2010 Platinum Dunes, having churned out remakes of TCM, Halloween and Friday the 13th, finally undertook the most stylish of the 80s slasher franchises, A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Things actually got off to a promising start when the always-creepy Jackie Earl Haley was cast as Freddy Krueger.  And, well, that's it.  Everything else about this remake stunk.  From the paint-by-numbers look of the film to the overuse of CG animation to the unimaginative dream sequences, to the explicitly revealed "Freddy is a child molester" twist, this film was devoid of the fun and ingenuity of the original.  It was so poorly received the studio abandoned the planned sequel and left us only with this disposable retread.


Friday, April 14, 2017

Awesomely Shitty Movies: The Running Man

Welcome to another edition of Awesomely Shitty Movies, here at Enuffa.com!

Today we'll dissect and discuss what is possibly The Mother of Awesomely Shitty Movies (or at least a well-respected Aunt), The Running Man!  Based to the loosest possible degree on the novel by Richard Bachman (or Stephen King as he's known to everyone), The Running Man tells the story of a dystopian future where the global economy has collapsed and the country is a police-state.  The masses are controlled by a military-industrial complex that keeps them placated with violent television and a steady stream of disinformation.  The most popular TV show is called The Running Man, where convicted felons are hunted down by cartoonish gladiator-types called Stalkers.  The host/creator of the show is the slimy but immensely charismatic Damon Killian, who has become a beloved cultural icon.

The Running Man (1987)


The protagonist of the film, Ben Richards (Arnold Schwarzenegger), is a former SWAT cop who after refusing to kill dozens of food rioters, is framed for their deaths and wrongfully imprisoned.  He and two fellow prisoners (members of an underground resistance whose mission is to expose the corrupt establishment and restore democracy) escape, only to end up as Running Man contestants.

What ensues is a fantastically awful amalgam of pro wrestling and numerous side-scrolling video games, as the Runners have to evade a series of Stalkers in order to get to the next stage.

This film is absolute tripe, but holy lord it's entertaining.  And here's why....



The Awesome

The Backdrop

This movie creates a richly detailed little universe for our characters to inhabit.  From the fake TV shows and commercials, to the neat technological advances, to the bit characters, the filmmakers have done a fine job of establishing the environment and making this seem like a real world that could actually exist.  To a certain extent it reminds me of the dystopia of Robocop.  There are some tangible aspects of this universe that make the story somewhat believable.

Reminds me a little of Blade Runner.  Just a little.



Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Ultimate Dream WrestleMania, Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of our Ultimate Dream WrestleMania!  Night 1 has already been heralded as an all-time classic PPV (I believe Dave Meltzer gave both Flair vs. Bryan and Savage vs. Punk five stars), and we're only halfway through the festivities.  Strap yourselves in and enjoy the second half!




NIGHT 2


Edge & Christian vs. The Midnight Express


We open with a blazing tag team matchup, as Jim Cornette's legendary Midnight Express takes on the team that "reeks of awesomeness."  This is your classic seesaw matchup, as neither team is able to maintain an advantage for very long.  The tandem offense is plentiful and dizzying, and the referee has trouble keeping just two men in at a time.  Halfway through, the Midnights exploit a distraction allowing Cornette to wallop Christian with his tennis racket, and they take control.  After several minutes of abuse, Christian tags Edge and all hell breaks loose, with all four men in the ring at once.  At the fourteen-minute mark the Midnights set Christian up for the Veg-O-Matic, but Edge pushes Bobby Eaton off the top rope and nails the Implant DDT on Stan Lane for the win.




Eddie Guerrero vs. Owen Hart


Two of the most beloved heels in wrestling history face off next, in a bout likely to be rife with cheating.  Hair-pulling, tights-hooking, rope-holding, it's all there.  Eddie sets a fast pace early on but Owen eventually slows it down to gain an advantage.  After eleven minutes Owen accidentally knocks down the official, Eddie grabs a chair and tosses it to Owen, and feigns being hit.  The referee questions Owen about using the chair and Eddie rolls him up for a close two-count.  Owen kicks out and snares an airtight small package for the three.





Triple H vs. Killer Kowalski


It's Mentor vs. Student as the monstrous Killer Kowalski faces his greatest protege, Triple H.  This match would be a contrast of styles as Kowalski tries to brawl while Hunter isolates a leg to negate his size disadvantage.  In the closing minutes Kowalski catches Hunter with the dreaded claw hold and nearly gets a submission before Hunter lurches for the ropes.  The referee pushes Kowalski away but he charges at Hunter, who catches him with a Harley Race high knee, followed by the Pedigree for the win at 8:40.



Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Ultimate Dream WrestleMania, Part 1

Welcome to a special Enuffa.com presentation - The Ultimate Dream WrestleMania!


I've presented a couple WWE vs. NJPW dream cards which can be read HERE and HERE, but I thought I'd put together an ultimate fantasy WrestleMania card using stars of the past and present, and including a bevy of dream matches we all wanted to see but never got to.  The one self-imposed rule for this show was every match had to be something we'll never see in a wrestling ring (minus for one partial exception in Part 2).  Also for the purposes of this piece, assume every competitor is in his respective prime years.

For a show of this magnitude, a) the only appropriate venue is The Pontiac Silverdome as it looked in 1987, and b) the lineup is so huge it would take place over two nights (and this column will be in two parts)!  Nearly 100,000 fans would pack this majestic stadium (TWICE!) in anticipation of twenty of the greatest and most colossal bouts in the history of our sport (Thanks Tony!).

At the commentary table is Good Ol' JR and Jesse Ventura, and the ring announcer is of course Howard Finkel.

Let's take you to the action!


NIGHT 1


AJ Styles vs. Ricky Steamboat


This match would be a breathtaking, balletic opener between two athletically gifted, natural babyfaces. Both men would play up their stunning movesets to the hilt, providing crisp, elegant action with high-flying maneuvers abound.  AJ would bring his explosive agility while Steamboat would showcase his aptitude for gracefully compelling in-ring drama.  At the fourteen-minute mark, look for AJ to counter a Steamboat top-rope axehandle with a Pele kick, followed by the devastating Styles Clash for the win.




Anderson & Blanchard vs. The Hardy Boyz


It's the quintessential flashy aerial babyface team vs. the rugged, no-frills veteran heels.  The Hardy Boyz would dominate the early going with tandem offense and impossibly quick tags, keeping their slower opponents off-balance.  But after several minutes Arn and Tully would find an underhanded tactic to turn the tide, isolating Jeff and working to destroy his legs.  Jeff would fight valiantly, finally tagging in Matt, and all hell would break loose.  After twelve minutes The Hardyz would hit the Twist of Fate/Swanton combo on Tully, but a distracted official would miss Arn coming off the top rope with an elbow on Jeff and rolling Tully on top of him.  The sneak attack would be good for three.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Music Review: Mastodon - Emperor of Sand


Prog-metal titans Mastodon are back with their seventh album, an ambitious, melodic, metaphorical journey called Emperor of Sand.  In the same vein as their trilogy of concept albums (Leviathan, Blood Mountain and Crack the Skye), Emperor contains an ongoing story arc, about a man cursed with a death sentence by an evil sultan.  The band chose this parable to explore the idea of a person dying from cancer, and the result is a thoughtful and thematic work, with a real focus on great songwriting.

Reunited with producer Brendan O'Brien (who helmed Crack the Skye in 2009), Mastodon largely breaks free of easy categorization on this album, presenting a hybrid of their signature frenetic drum patterns/arpeggiated guitars and a structurally stripped down, vocal-driven sound not unlike some of the material on 2011's The Hunter.  The three vocalists, Troy Sanders, Brent Hinds and Brann Daillor share lead duties more than ever before, trading off sections within the same song almost across the board.  This lends each track considerable textural variety and allows each singer to stretch his range; vocally this is the best Mastodon has ever sounded.

The album's 51-minute running time flies by, as the aforementioned Sanders, Hinds, Daillor and Bill Kelleher effortlessly pound out a dazzling flurry of hooky hard rockers. From the swinging triplet feel of the opening track "Sultan's Curse" to the Queens of the Stone Age-esque single "Show Yourself," to the stuttery slow-groover "Steambreather" (my personal favorite), to the emotionally anthemic "Ancient Kingdom," the band has assembled an amazing stretch of memorable, instrumentally agile tunes.  For me the album only falters briefly with the 10th track "Scorpion Breath," a noisy, one-dimensional nod to Mastodon's early work that feels out of place here.  But the disc closes strong with "Jaguar God," a multi-section 8-minute epic that gradually increases in intensity, from somber acoustic waltz to driving metal dirge.

Emperor of Sand shows a confident quartet pushing their boundaries again, after the somewhat safe but admirable effort of Once More 'Round the Sun.  I'd actually like to hear them go full prog-rock without feeling pressured to include more traditional metal elements.  On this album it almost sounds like they've included a bit of that just so as not to alienate their older fans.  But for me this album is probably their second-best work after The Hunter; it's inspiring to hear Mastodon tackle a conceptual central theme once again with such vigor, via such robust songwriting.  Emperor of Sand includes some of the band's best material yet.

I give the album **** out of *****.

Top Ten Things: Shinsuke Nakamura Matches

Welcome to Top Ten Things, here at Enuffa.com!  Today I'll be talking about a man who just debuted on Smackdown after a successful NXT run, the Japanese phenomenon and the King of Strong Style, Shinsuke Nakamura!


Former NJPW headliner Nakamura made his long-awaited WWE debut in April 2016 (hard to believe it's been a year already) and had a helluva run on NXT.  His debut match against Sami Zayn at TakeOver: Dallas was unanimously praised as one of the best matches of 2016, and he went on to vanquish Austin Aries and Finn Balor, dethroned NXT Champion Samoa Joe (twice) before falling to Bobby Roode and moving up to the main roster.  I look forward eagerly to seeing what he can do as a top star on the blue brand.

Nak is far and away the most charismatic wrestler in the world, oozing a mesmerizing rock star swagger (He cites Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson as personal heroes) and delivering every wrestling maneuver in a completely unique, sensationally dramatic way.  His wrestling style is mostly striking-based, playing off his brief-but-successful MMA career, and involves heavy use of knee strikes and kicks.  His finishing move, the Kinshasa (formerly the Boma Ye), is a simple-but-devastating running knee to the jaw that has leveled dozens of opponents.  While his moveset may seem simplistic and unspectacular, it's Nakamura's delivery and his infectious, larger-than-life magnetism that makes him so captivating to watch.  He executes every move with complete attention to detail and nuance, to the extent that one can't help but say, "I've seen that move done before but never quite like that."  In an odd way his smartly-worked style reminds me of a Randy Savage.  It seems like he's doing much more than he is, and the storytelling aspect is so strong it makes the whole match sizzle.

American fans are largely new to Nakamura's incredible talent, but prior to arriving in America he built a stellar resume in New Japan, racking up dozens of Match of the Year-caliber performances.  Here now are my ten favorite Nakamura bouts....




10. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Naomichi Marufuji - King of Pro-Wrestling 2013


The IWGP Intercontinental Champion vs. The Ace of Pro Wrestling NOAH.  This match had some of the most innovative offense I'd seen in years, as the two spent several minutes grappling and countergrappling.  I could've watched Nakamura and Marufuji feud for months - that's how well they worked together, assembling a 16-minute barn burner that would've been Match of the Night on any show not headlined by Okada vs. Tanahashi.





9. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kazushi Sakuraba - WrestleKingdom 7


The semi-main event of the excellent WK7 pitted Chaos stablemates against each other for the Intercontinental Title.  What a unique, fascinating match this was.  As pro wrestling/MMA hybrids go, this was about as good as it gets.  It kicked off with totally credible ground grappling (to be expected given both of these guys were MMA fighters) which then led to stiff wrestling offense (At one point Nakamura ran into a vicious knee to the face and I can't believe he wasn't legit knocked out).  Sakuraba dominated by working Nakamura's arm, but Nakamura fought through and managed to hit the Boma Ye for the win.  This bout was just about perfect for its spot on the card.




Friday, April 7, 2017

Helluva Band: Mastodon

Welcome to yet another feature here at Enuffa.com - Helluva Band!  Each entry in this series will dissect the career of a specific band (or artist), while also covering the author's (sometimes it'll be me, sometimes not) introduction to the band, and his/her history as a fan.

For this edition I've chosen to spotlight prog/sludge/alt-metal band Mastodon.

Weird-lookin' dudes, man.....

This unusual band from Atlanta are known for non-traditional song structures, odd-time signatures, dazzling arpeggiated guitar riffs, astonishing jazz-influenced drum parts, and stylistically diverse vocals ranging from throaty barbaric screaming to clean melodic singing.  Three of the four members share vocal duties - bassist Troy Sanders has historically been the primary vocalist along with guitarist Brent Hinds, but on recent albums drummer Brann Dailor has taken up some of the slack as well (guitarist Bill Kelliher has only sung lead on one bonus track thus far), which has enhanced the diversity of their sound.

I first became aware of Mastodon in 2007, when a buddy of mine (hey Mike!), an avid metal fan like myself, highly recommended them.  I had heard the name before but knew nothing of their sound.  This was at a time when I had grown really tired of all the music I owned and was actively looking for new bands and artists to listen to (a few months later I got my first iPod and my musical tastes began to broaden exponentially).  After looking the band up on Wikipedia I was intrigued by the description of their music and the thematic elements of each of their albums, and decided to purchase Leviathan and Blood Mountain (the former had won all kinds of accolades from various metal magazines). 

Each of the band's first four albums had an elemental motif.
Blood Mountain, the third album, dealt with Earth.

Blood Mountain was the first album I listened to, and I'd be lying if I said I was immediately blown away.  The overall sound was a little different than I expected (I figured there would be more of a nu-metal influence, with sludgy, detuned guitar grooves and gruff but hooky vocal melodies), I had a hard time getting into the vocal style, and the music seemed overly busy and strangely unfocused.  There were definitely some songs that caught my attention, specifically "Sleeping Giant," "Colony of Birchmen," and "This Mortal Soil."  Other than that though, I wasn't terribly enthusiastic about the album.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

NJPW Sakura Genesis Preview & Predictions

by Landon Wayne
@LSWayne21

Invasion Attack no more!



Rebranded this year and including 200% more cherry blossoms, the annual Spring event looks to be a great follow up to the spectacular New Beginning shows of February. With three awesome singles matches carrying an undercard of gang warfare, Ryƍgoku is going to be the stage to a great event that may bring long term ramifications for the company. So right now, Justin and I are going to preview all the matches on the card, from opening bell to the main event.




David Finlay, Jushin Thunder Liger & Manabu Nakanishi vs. Hirai Kawato, Katsuya Kitamura & Tomoyuki Oka


It's just going to be the typical Young Lion opening match. Katsuya's size scares the ever-loving Jesus out of me. Teruaki Kanemitsu, who stole my heart as a Young Lion months ago, hasn't been seen since taking his attitude against Yuji Nagata, presumably killed by the 3rd generation in the Dojo one night. Still like Oka and Kawato a lot, though.

Landon's Pick: Do you really need me to say?
Justin's Pick: Team Finlay





Chase Owens, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Tiger Mask, Tiger Mask W, Togi Makabe & Yuji Nagata


Chase Owens is back in New Japan, most likely for the upcoming Best of the Super Juniors. Ibushi's involvement in this match probably means he'll be in the BOSJ as well, which excites me.

Landon's Pick: Bullet Club
Justin's Pick: I'll go with the babyfaces here.  If Ibushi as Tiger Mask W is in the Jrs. tournament, he better take off the mask in time for G1.





RPG Vice & YOSHI-HASHI vs. El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki & TAKA Michinoku


Suzuki-Gun is literally just Minoru and a gang of Jr Heavyweight geeks. Suzuki-Gun doesn't scare me, and a Minoru on his own would be more intimidating than him dragging his goof troop along.

Landon's Pick: YOSHI's gonna get piledriven and that makes me sad.
Justin's Pick: Suzuki-gun



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Movie Review: Survivor Type (2012)


Director: Billy Hanson
Starring: Gideon Emery

Four full years after I became aware of the film, I finally got a chance to see Billy Hanson's acclaimed Dollar Baby adaptation of Stephen King's "Survivor Type," the grotesquely disturbing short story of a disgraced surgeon who gets stranded on a miniscule island and goes to outrageously great lengths to survive.

Hanson debuted the film in 2012 at numerous horror film festivals and it generated considerable buzz, garnering multiple awards and unanimous praise from critics and fans alike.

Where King's story is presented as a written diary, Hanson translated the medium as a gritty, 30-minute "found footage" film.  The format plunges us directly into this ghastly tale, allowing the viewer to identify with this less-than-admirable character and his increasingly grim plight.  English character actor Gideon Emery delivers a stunning one-man-show performance as Dr. Richard Pine, showing us in short HD video snippets a man gradually losing his mind (and body) from hunger, desolation and drug use.

Anyone familiar with "Survivor Type" knows what happens next - Pine begins amputating and eating parts of his own body to stay alive, and his diary entries become more and more nonsensical and disjointed as the film hurtles toward the inevitable.  Hanson's approach to this material is simple and straightforward, allowing Emery's completely believable and realistic performance to take center stage.  As for the grisly details, Hanson shows just enough to make the audience shudder (and maybe dry-heave a little), but wisely leaves a lot of it to the imagination like the original story does.  The prosthetic effects are modestly presented but quite persuasive, and the makeup team does a tremendous job of making Emery look like a man who's literally withering away before our eyes.

All this would be for naught if the performance didn't work.  But it does, pretty spectacularly.  Gideon Emery compellingly brings across Pine's self-defeating hubris in the early scenes as he's certain he'll be rescued quickly, and later becomes palpably unhinged and hopeless after hacking off various parts of himself.  The most upsetting clips of course are the numerous ad hoc surgeries he performs, where Emery depicts not only unfathomable agony but also kind of a strange testosterone-fueled satisfaction in withstanding the pain.  By the end the character almost seems to be taking a masochistic pleasure in the amputations, spurred on by a growing dependence on his supply of heroin.  Emery's performance is naturalistic and fairly restrained given the extreme nature of the story, and he carries the film superbly.

Stephen King's ingeniously unsettling self-cannibalization yarn has been pretty flawlessly adapted here by Billy Hanson, in what has to be considered the definitive film version.  If you're a fan of traumatic horror films, and especially if you're a Stephen King devotee, you'll love "Survivor Type."  Just don't eat anything for about an hour beforehand....and you probably won't wanna eat much afterwards either.  

The History of NXT TakeOver: Orlando


Orlando - Amway Center - 4.1.17

Once again NXT set the bar high for WrestleMania weekend with a fine TakeOver showing.  While certainly not on the level of last year's sublime Dallas show, TakeOver: Orlando supplied nary a bad match and some pretty damn good wrestling action.  Also in contrast to most main roster PPVs, this show flew by with a lean 155-minute running time.  To kick off "the next chapter" of NXT, Commissioner William Regal presented brand new Title belts, all of which are an improvement over their predecessors.  The new designs are more elaborate and convey greater splendor, making the Titles all seem less like mere developmental props.

Kicking things off was a wild eight-person mixed tag match, with SAnitY facing the makeshift babyface combo of Tye Dillinger, Roderick Strong, Ruby Riot, and subbing for a kayfabe injured No Way Jose, the returning Kassius Ohno (God I hate that ring name).  This chaotic brawl got the live crowd primed, with fast-paced action that culminated with Killian Dain stealing Kenny Omega's One-Winged Angel finisher to put Dillinger away.  Once Ohno was added to the match I figured the babyfaces would get the duke, but it made more sense for the heels to win here.  It would also be a running theme on this show.  Nice little opening match that served its purpose well.


Next up was the much-anticipated debut of the former Tommy End, now called Aleister Black.  Black's entrance called to mind The Undertaker's histrionics, with a nice Nosferatu reference as he was raised on a platform, horizontal to vertical.  Black and his opponent Andrade Almas had fairly good chemistry, although the match felt a little longer than it needed to be; by the end it seemed like they were filling time a bit.  Black got a decisive win with Black Mass, a roundhouse head kick.  Not the most exciting finisher but it looked effective.  This was the weakest match of the night, which means NXT put on a fine show.


The show's highlight was third, the Elimination Triple Threat Tag Title match pitting The Authors of Pain against DIY and The Revival.  This was a fantastically energetic bout, with DIY and Dash & Dawson repeatedly teaming up to try and take down the monster champs.  Recounting all the action would be basically impossible, but there were tandem moves galore, including each DIY member pairing with a Revival member to do the teams' respective finishers on Akam and Rezar.  Eventually though AoP took DIY out with The Last Chapter, leaving The Revival as big underdogs.  After only three more minutes Dash and Dawson then fell to The Super Collider (Great move with a great name), allowing The Authors to retain.  I was pretty low on AoP when they debuted, but they earned a stripe or two in this match, showing significant improvement in the stamina department and taking some very stiff shots.  Definite Match of the Night.


Monday, April 3, 2017

The Dive Bars of America: The Ducktown Tavern (Atlantic City, NJ)

by Dan Moore
@SouthieDanimal

This column features some of the greatest & grossest dive bars in the U.S. of A. My rating system has between 1 and 4 handlebar mustaches, which is the preferred mustache by 9 out of 10 old timers in dive bars.


Ducktown Tavern
2400 Atlantic Ave
Atlantic City, NJ 08401

One of the coolest logos in the dive bar world

In our journey to Jersey, the boys & I ventured outside of the casinos for awhile. Tough to believe, but it’s true. Outside of going to BullShots, we ended up heading past this spot, the Ducktown Tavern. It’s a huge, long bar with two rooms and it’s open 24 FUCKING HOURS A DAY. Yeah, that’s right.



Fun Factor:  The place was HUGE. There were two giant rooms in the joint. They had a ton of TVs and I think dartboards and such in the back…but we were all pinned in a corner, drinking beers and watching TVG to get our horse betting fix going. We made our own fun...and very little money. 

The man brought his own racing form.  He's got a problem.





WWE WrestleMania 33 Review

Amazingly, WWE put on an even LONGER show than WM32 - the Kickoff started at 5pm Eastern and the main PPV ended at 12:13am.  Jeezus H. Christ guys.  I believe the phrase "too much of a good thing" was invented specifically for modern WWE PPVs.  Anyway, 'Mania 33 had a surprising amount of good stuff, considering how unenthusiastic I was going in.  Where 'Mania 32 was about half-good, 'Mania 33 upped that to about two-thirds, and even the bad stuff was pretty inoffensive.  Sadly most of the weak matches happened in the final third of the show.  Cut an hour out of the main PPV and you'd have something approaching an A- grade.  But let's take the deep dive.  Let me preface by saying I need to rewatch basically the entire show, as my feed was frought with Network issues and almost every match got interrupted at least once.  So the following is my initial assessment.....


First the pre-show stuff.  The Cruiserweights kicked things off with a quite nice bout that got a fairly shocking 16 minutes.  Neville and Austin Aries worked pretty hard to deliver something memorable and for the most part succeeded.  WWE took a commercial break in the middle, which needs to fucking stop.  There is zero excuse for this.  It's your own network and you have the option to present matches uninterrupted.  Anyway, we got some pretty intense action culminating in Aries hitting a 450 splash, followed by the Last Chancery.  Neville appeared on the verge of tapping out but gouged Aries' injured eye to escape and hit the Red Arrow to retain.  Solid stuff.


The Andre Battle Royal was next, and as usual it was silly at best.  Big Show and Braun Strowman were eliminated mindbogglingly early, at which point I assumed Sami Zayn would probably get a nice little win here.  But when they showed Rob Gronkowski in the front row prior to the bell I should've smelled a rat.  Sure enough, Gronk got into an altercation with Jinder Mahal which led to him getting in the ring and shoulderblocking Mahal, allowing Mojo Rawley to recover from an earlier attack and win the whole thing.  I can't see this as anything more than WWE engineering some mainstream news coverage.  Don't expect a Mojo push from this.  Once again the Andre Battle Royal serves very little purpose.

The third pre-show match, and the most infuriating, was Dean Ambrose vs. Baron Corbin for the I-C belt.  I guess if there isn't a 7-man Ladder clusterfuck for this Title it doesn't get to be on the main card.  This was an entirely forgettable bout which got ten minutes and ended with Ambrose reversing End of Days into Dirty Deeds to retain.  I'm willing to bet we see a much better rematch on Smackdown this week.

The PPV proper kicked off with AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon in a pretty shockingly good match.  I was torn on this because Shane was booked to be a step ahead of AJ for most of the bout, but I'll be damned if it wasn't entertaining.  Many of the spots were way over-the-top, including Shane countering AJ's 450 splash into a triangle choke, Shane missing a Shooting Star Press, AJ trying the Van Terminator but running into a trash can, and Shane doing his own Van Terminator.  AJ finally took the win after hitting the Phenomenal Forearm, capping off what was probably the best match of the night.  Nothing even approaching AJ's bouts with Cena, but this was a lot of fun.



Saturday, April 1, 2017

My Favorite WrestleMania Moment

by Dan Moore
@SouthieDanimal

Over the years, WWE’s biggest event has given its fans tons of moments that are forever implanted in your brain as truly memorable and awesome. Hogan slamming Andre the Giant. The Macho Man parading Miss Elizabeth on his shoulders in a victory march. Stone Cold bleeding his face off against the Hitman. Shawn Michaels ending the iconic career of the Nature Boy with the words "I'm Sorry. I Love You." And then of course this.


18 seconds

Sheamus decimating Daniel Bryan in double the time it takes me to find a rubber (Just kidding, I don’t use those, who am I, Justin? Or Derek even?!?!?). But that’s not my favorite moment. No, my favorite moment was this.

Right at the count of three, this is the moment before he screamed,
"MOTHERFUCKERRRRRR!!!!"

That right there, friends, is Justin Ballard filled with rage as his hero D-Bryan was pinned. This man loves wrestling (in case you can’t tell by the ENDLESS wrestling columns). He has his favorites but man oh man they were all trumped by the scrappy bearded fellow from Oregon (Editor's Note: It's Washington, fuckface). He was so looking forward to this matchup. And it was over before he sat down from taking a leak.

The sheer joy his absolute misery gave us that day is immeasurable. Much like the screams of children fueled the creatures of Monsters, Inc, the tears of this man filled me with enough energy to move mountains that day. It gave me unexplainable joy. Food tasted better. The air seemed fresher. I had more energy and self-confidence than I ever dreamed of.

To this day, I’m SHOCKED he didn’t throw us all out of his house the second this happened. We needled him endlessly all night and each time you could see the red flickering light of anger grow bigger as the vein in his head almost exploded with rage. Easily the greatest WrestleMania memory of my life.